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Rational thought at risk – not freedom

Posted by Olive Heffernan

While I usually find the FT an excellent source of comment and discussion on climate change, I was somewhat bemused by last week’s Comment from the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, who writes that “global warming hysteria has become a prime example of the truth versus propaganda problem” and urges society to “resist the politicisation of science and oppose the term ‘scientific consensus’, which is always achieved only by a loud minority, never by a silent majority”.

Though clearly no climate expert, Klaus feels sufficiently component to write on the topic of global warming “as someone who lived under communism for most of his life”. He says “I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism”.

From a man who regards Michael Crichton and Richard Lindzen as voices of reason come denunciations of “Al Gore’s so-called documentary film”, “Britain’s – more or less Tony Blair’s – Stern report” and the IPCC’s and G8 Summit’s “ambitions to do something about the weather”. (For a direct response to both Crichton’s and Lindzen’s climate denialist arguments, listen to the recent debate with climate scientists Gavin Schmidt and Richard Somerville, among others).

Klaus fails to even attempt to challenge any specifics of the scientific literature on climate change, but instead writes climate science off as ‘propoganda’, making his Comment absurd.

“One exceptionally warm winter is enough…for the environmentalists and their followers to suggest radical measures to do something about the weather”, he writes. Actually, the latest IPCC report on the physical science basis of climate change, which represents the work of thousands of researchers, compiled by hundreds of climate experts, found that “eleven of the last twelve years rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature”.

He then goes on to claim it is “proven fact that the higher the wealth of society, the higher is the quality of the environment”. But with higher per-capita income, the demand for ecosystem services grows. This places more pressure on the environment, often with detrimental effects. For more on this, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment provides a comprehensive discussion of the relationship between wealth and the environment.

As Felix Salmon points out on the Market Movers blog, much of Klaus’ Comment is rather woolly in meaning, with statements such as ‘small climate changes do not demand far-reaching restrictive measures’ being so general as to be meaningless.

The FT invites readers to challenge Klaus by posting questions to before this Thursday, June 21, when answers to a select few will appear online from 1pm BST – although the Q&A session is situated in the somewhat misleading category ‘ask the expert’! Personally, I find it disappointing that they are only allowing questions rather than comments, and select ones at that.


  1. Report this comment

    Bishop Hill said:

    Well, that should get your visitor numbers up. 😉

    To be fair to Klaus, he’s not saying anything very different to, say, Mike Hulme who the BBC reported as saying of the pronouncements of climate scientists:

    “There has been over-claiming or exaggeration, or at the very least casual use of language by scientists, some of whom are quite prominent”

    I think it excellent that you link to the iq2 debate on climate though, which I recommend to your readers. According to those who voted after the event, the debate was won resoundingly by the sceptics. It’s surprising what happens when both sides of the argument are heard. With that in mind we might ask you why you don’t link to Climate Audit. After all Von Storch and Zorita have said on this very site that McIntyre has earned the right to be heard. Do you disagree?

    This is a remarkable posting in many ways – I had imagined that Nature was the referee in this debate, not a participant. Clearly you feel differently. But you should remember though that if you turn out to have backed the wrong horse, it’s your commercial reputation on the line.

  2. Report this comment

    Bishop Hill said:

    Nature blogs

    MacMillan Nature group now has a really quite impressive web presence – at least in terms of volume. Their head honcho, Richard Charkin, is a blogger

  3. Report this comment

    Kerry McEvilly said:

    “eleven of the last twelve years rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature”.

    An alarming enough sentence from an anthropo-centric perspective, to be sure. Perhaps not from a climatological perspective.

    It certainly looks like more than a statistical anomaly, and I’d wager my money on that premise. But it is hardly the ironclad proof that some of the more reckless scientific proponents and Fentonian astroturfers of anthropogenic global warming trumpet it to be.

  4. Report this comment

    Thomas Bolger said:

    May I quote:

    Science 6 May 2005:

    Vol. 308. no. 5723, pp. 850 – 854

    Do Satellites Detect Trends in Surface Solar Radiation?

    R. T. Pinker,1 B. Zhang,2 E. G. Dutton


    “Long-term variations in solar radiation at Earth’s surface (S) can affect our climate, the hydrological cycle, plant photosynthesis, and solar power. Sustained decreases in S have been widely reported from about the year 1960 to 1990. Here we present an estimate of global temporal variations in S by using the longest available satellite record. We observed an overall increase in S from 1983 to 2001 at a rate of 0.16 watts per square meter (0.10%) per year; this change is a combination of a decrease until about 1990, followed by a sustained increase. The global-scale findings are consistent with recent independent satellite observations but differ in sign and magnitude from previously reported ground observations. Unlike ground stations, satellites can uniformly sample the entire globe.”

    From this calculations indicate that the warming during the 1990s can be totally explained by Albedo


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    Rejean Gagnon said:


    your comments are sadly ad hominem and rather less solid on facts. Too bad you have the ear of many. As already mentioned above, the IQ2 link is a positive addition to the article. Dr Roger Pielke Sr (Colorado U) is also worth listening to, and his weblog (Climate Science) is also a place of general respect and polite content-driven discussion. He does not shy away from the hard questions either – so go ahead and ask!

    As has been said at many another place – the content of the argument matters, not the credentials of the individual. This is the only real wave of the future. One does not need a degree to be skeptical of poor science, and a little education can make bad science apparent, regardless of your own field of expertise (mine is not in climate).

  6. Report this comment

    Mark Bahner said:

    It’s interesting that the headline to these comments is, “Rational thought at risk—not freedom”.

    At the very same time Kevin Trenberth has (correctly) pointed out that the IPCC has never made any predictions about future temperatures, and Eduardo Zorita has (correctly) pointed out that the IPCC’s “projections” are therefore unfalsifiable.

    The last I checked, isn’t falsifiability an absolute bedrock requirement for true science?

    Has Nature ever pointed out that the IPCC “projections” are not falsifiable, and therefore are not true science? If not, why not?

  7. Report this comment

    Stephen Lajoie said:

    Mr. Klaus’ statement is based on the conclusion that man made global warming is not real.

    Ms. Heffernan’s blog is based, in part, on the assumption that it is. Good points in Heffernan’s post is that she brings out that Klaus never actually addresses the issue of the science of global warming. The bad points in Mr. Heffernan’s post is that she doesn’t actually address the science, either.

    If you are going to address anthropogenic global warming, you have to address the science.

    As of right now, there isn’t even a testable anthropogenic global warming hypothesis. All the computer models (made by simple curve fitting to past data) that served as a hypothesis failed to predict the last decade’s climate. The physics of the greenhouse effect of CO2 shows that it cannot, alone, account for the climate change that has been observed. Thus, various attempts at explaining CO2 as a “leverage” gas in a presumptive positive feedback system. The problem with a positive feedback hypothesis is that it presumes that our climate system is unstable. Any warming at all should have sent us to a much warmer, but stable, climate. Thus, these theories are untenable.

    To prove man made CO2 is the cause of the warming, one must prove that:

    1) Humans put the increased CO2 into the atmosphere.

    2) The CO2 is causing the climate change.

    Neither assertion has been shown satisfactorily. It has been argued by correlation. Humans have been putting CO2 in the air, and the climate has been warming as CO2 concentrations have increased. The argument of correlation proves causation, however, is a logical fallacy and junk science. There are four possibilities when events A and B are correlated:

    1) A causes B

    2) B causes A

    3) C causes A and B

    4) random chance produced the correlation

    Correlation is a start, not a proof.

    Human activity adds about 5% to the natural CO2 emissions on the earth. One would expect, in natural ocean/atmosphere equilibrium, that 95% of that CO2 would enter the ocean. In rebuttal to this observation, studies of isotope ratios have shown that the bulk of that CO2 is from sequestered carbon. The false presumption here is that all sequestered carbon is from fossil fuels. Actually, any source of sequestered carbon will produce the observed isotope ratios, including carbon freed from carbonate rocks. As taught in lower division college chemistry, only temperature changes can alter chemical equilibrium constants and there is a equilibrium constant between atmosphere and ocean CO2, and between carbonate rock and dissolved ocean CO2. Simple inspection of the increasing ratios of CO2 in the atmosphere shows that this ratio has changes. A warmer ocean favors more dissolved CO2, and more CO2 in the air, just like you soda pop has less fizz when it is warmer.

    Thus, the increase in CO2 is an effect of the warming, not a cause.

    Other indications that CO2 is an effect is that while CO2 level is correlated with climate change, solar cycle is even MORE strongly correlated with climate change. The rebuttal here is that the physics shows that the changes in solar spectral irradiance cannot account for the climate change. Oddly, enough, the same people who are quick to point this out and believe it debunks any and everything to do with solar, overlook that the physics shows that CO2 cannot directly cause the warming.

    Other correlations are that there has been observed warming on Mars and Jupiter.

    On the other hand, we have Henrik Svensmark’s theory. Svensmark showed how cosmic rays can cause cloud nucleation in the lab, much as physicist’s cloud chambers work. Svensmark showed how increased cloud cover can lower the temperature of the earth, causing climate change. And lastly, Svensmark showed how his hypothesis is constant with the last 4.5 billion years of data. Svensmark also shows why solar cycle is related to climate change: the solar wind protects the solar system from the high energy cosmic rays that cause cooling. Svensmark’s theory also explains why the Northern Hemisphere was warmer than the Southern Hemisphere.

    So, we have Svensmark’s theory that predicts, that fit the observed correlations, vs a hypothesis that fails to predict and shouldn’t even work in principle.

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